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June 3, 2020 | 5 minute read

How People with Cancer Can Stay Safe as States Reopen

Do survivors need to take extra measures now that “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders are lifted?

Cancer survivors, especially those undergoing chemotherapy, will need to take extra measures to keep themselves safe. If you are recovering from, currently receiving or caring for someone undergoing chemotherapy, you’ll want to be vigilant to keep yourself healthy. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it also impacts the immune system – the system in the body that fights invaders like viruses.

It’s important to continue your chemotherapy and stop cancer growth. If you are responding well to treatment, discuss your treatment schedule with your doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends continuing all medications and cautions against making any changes unless you have your doctor’s guidance.

Health professionals are known to discuss precautions and techniques to minimize risks, but they say it is ultimately the patients and caregivers who make the final decisions.

Dr. Chris Hummel, a gynecologic oncologist from the Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion at Spectrum Health, says, My goal as a doctor is to intervene in cancer growth and extend a patient’s life, but we are aware that we are potentially exposing them to additional risks such as reduced immunity. We discuss precautions and techniques to minimize risk.”

What can survivors and caregivers do to protect themselves?

As states across the country begin to reopen and slowly return to a new normal, cancer survivors and caregivers need to continue to be extra cautious. Here are some ways to help protect yourself:

  • Make washing your hands easy. Keep soap next to all sinks and extra soap stored close by.
  • Sing a fun song for 20 seconds while washing your hands. Pick something fun that you remember from childhood. It is easy to do a quick rinse, but instead make sure you are following the hand washing guidelines provided by the CDC.
  • Use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol-based when soap and water are not available. Keep small bottles in your car, purse or on a key ring.
  • Stay home as much as possible. If you do need to leave the house to go to the grocery store, plan ahead with a menu and grocery list to limit your time in the store.
  • Bundle outings into one trip instead of going out multiple days. Stop by the grocery store on the same day you need to go to a medical appointment.
  • Find out when your blood count and immunity will be the lowest after chemotherapy and take the most precautions at that time.
  • Pay attention to what is happening locally. Follow the trending numbers and be aware if the virus is continuing to spread in your area.
  • Use the CDC Corona Virus Checker if you or a caregiver are feeling ill.

Build confidence with a plan 

Talk with your family and/or caregiver about creating a plan for when they or you get sick. Here are some things to consider when creating your plan:

  • Who will care for you if you or your caregiver gets sick?
  • How will you get medications and supplies?
  • Where are the contact numbers for your healthcare team?
  • If you are feeling well enough during chemotherapy, do the best to eat healthy and provide your immune system with the tools it needs to rebuild.
  • Engage in physical activity when you feel up to it.

Talk about how you are feeling with your family. Watch for these warning signs:

  • Temperature greater than 100.4
  • Reduced smell or taste
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in chest
  • Difficulty breathing

Caring for health concerns other than COVID-19

Other health care concerns will still crop up, and it is important to not delay getting emergency care when necessary. If you need to go to the emergency department, call ahead if possible. When you arrive, let them know right away that you are undergoing chemotherapy.

Dr. Candance McNaughton advises people to feel empowered and in control of their health during this time. Dr. McNaughton says, “There are some differences by hospitals and clinics, but mostly in the healthcare facilities, the precautions are much, much more rigorous and the risk of contracting an infection during an important visit is much lower than it would have been several months ago. Patients can contact their provider and ask about what precautions are being used in their location, and many clinics and hospitals are sharing this information with patients and their families before scheduled visits.

For serious medical conditions that require in-person appointments, like chemotherapy or follow up for cancer treatment, experts are advising to not delay it any further. In many cases further delays in care can tip the balance so that there is greater risk in delaying than there is from interacting with healthcare providers. For urgent issues that require an emergency department visit, patients can ask for masks to wear, and they should feel entitled to ask their healthcare providers to wear masks and gloves and wash their hands.”

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